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Medical Detox for Opioids: What to Expect

Despite the rising number of opioid related overdose deaths, detoxification from opioids has historically been considered non-life threatening from a medical standpoint. With extreme physical discomfort and borderline torturous psychological effects, the lethality of opioid detox is changing thanks in large part to fentanyl. When considering detoxing from opioids, one should always consider entering a medical detox facility. In this blog we’ll explore what you can expect from a medical detox program and hopefully alleviate any concerns so you can make an educated decision about next steps. 


Importance of Medical Detox


Medical detoxification, commonly known as detox, is the first step in treating opioid addiction. Detoxification is crucial as abrupt cessation of opioid use can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, and even death, making it challenging to quit without medical intervention. This intervention takes the form of supervised withdrawal of opioids while medical professionals manage withdrawal symptoms and monitor for medical complications. The growing prevalence of fentanyl has complicated treatment of opioid use disorder making medically supervised detox a necessity when stopping use. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox alone is generally  insufficient to address the complexities of opioid addiction. However, it does serve as a vital starting point for individuals to progress into comprehensive addiction treatment programs.


Process and Timeline


There are several factors which can alter the duration and intensity of opioid withdrawal. These include the type of opioid used, the duration of use, and an individual's overall health and well-being. While timelines may differ, the general detox protocol follows a regular pattern:

  • Assessment: During admission, medical providers will conduct a comprehensive assessment to learn the duration of opioid use, overall health, potential medical issues, and any co-occurring mental health conditions. This is done so the treatment team can cultivate a personalized treatment plan and actively work to prevent any complications during detox. 

  • Stabilization: During the detox process, medications may be administered to manage withdrawal symptoms and stabilize the individual physically and emotionally.

  • Transition to Treatment: Once detox is complete, individuals are typically encouraged to transition into addiction treatment programs, such as residential rehab, outpatient therapy, or support groups and 12-step programs. 

  • Medical detox programs, on average, last 7-10 days but may be longer or shorter depending on the specific substances being used, how long they’ve been used for, and the potential for medical complications during detox. 


Medications Used in Opioid Detox


Healthcare providers may use medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and manage cravings during detoxification. Some commonly used medications include:

  • Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist that helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings while having a lower risk of abuse compared to other opioids.

  • Naltrexone: An opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and can help prevent relapse. These medications are often part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs and are administered under medical supervision.

  • Methadone: Not as commonly used anymore, methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It's often provided in specialized clinics or for those with medical conditions which prevent them from using more traditional medicine. 

  • Comfort Meds: To help ease detox related symptoms such as high blood pressure, diarrhea, muscle spasms, etc, comfort meds like clonidine, loperamide, and baclofen may be prescribed on an as needed basis.  

Entering a medical detox program for opioid addiction is a courageous and crucial step toward recovery. It provides a safe and supervised environment for individuals to withdraw from opioids while receiving necessary medical support. However, it's essential to recognize that detox is just the beginning of the recovery journey, and ongoing treatment and support are vital for long-term sobriety.

Call Holland Pathways today to learn more about our medical detox program for opioids and see if it’s the right fit for you.